Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Like a lot of kids, when I was small, I was horse-crazy. From the ages of seven through twelve, I collected the "Horses of Destiny" series, anything by Marguerite Henry, and any other horse story I could lay my hot little hands on. I kept spiral notebooks of drawings of horses, with their names and fictitious pedigrees. I knew the breeds, their origins, famous horses representing them. The first stories I wrote were horse stories, patterned closely after the books I'd read. I dreamed of one day owning a horse like those in my stories...a beautiful, intelligent steed who would carry me on my adventures.
One Christmas, I dared to ask Santa for a pony. I knew it was useless. I lived in the city--where would I keep a horse? Nevertheless, every store Santa who asked me got that answer: "I want a pony."
My parents talked it over. They looked through the newspaper, saw an ad, went to see the pony advertised, came back shaking their heads. "We were too late. Someone else bought him." To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
Christmas day arrived with plenty of gifts but not the expected pony, but...what was that on the table next to the plate with the crumbs of cookies? A note! "Dear Toni. I hope you like your presents. I left another one for you at your grandfather's, because it was too big to put under the tree...."
You guessed it! Good ol' Santa came through!
Arriving at my grandfather's farm, I hurried to the corral to stare at what stood there staring back at me. I couldn't believe it. "Oh, Mama, can I be dreaming?"
A bay and white tobiano pinto, a streak of white resembling the Mississippi cutting through the splotch of red on his chest, sweeping mane, tail brushing the ground. Barely fifteen hands high (just tall enough to be considered a horse), he was the product of an amorous Morgan stallion and a little Shetland mare everyone had thought too old to breed. Guess that showed 'em! His name was Nipper, for he loved to take a quick bite...out of the unwary.
From that day on, Nipper, my grandfather's dog, Midnight, and I were inseparable. Riding the pastures and red hills of my grandfather's 220-acre farm...through pine forests and cornfields...into swamps and down dusty Georgia roads, my beautiful, intelligent steed carried me on my adventures, some of which have undoubtedly found their way into my books.